Heartburn movie poster

It has something of the air of an informal dinner party dominated by a garrulous, sophisticated, bright, and somewhat smarty-pantsy woman who feels she has a lot to get off her chest. The woman in question is Nora Ephron, who has written the screenplay of her own roman à clef, and what she has to get off her chest is her crumpled marriage to Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein (disguised by pseudonym, naturally, but further by the ethnic hocus-pocus of dismissing Mandy Patinkin early in production and slotting Jack Nicholson in his place). And, as is apt to tumble from the lips of any garrulous, sophisticated, bright, and dominating dinner guest, there is a virtual avalanche of knowing and amusing observation ("My wife's name was Kimberly," she quotes her pseudonymous husband as saying: "One of the very first Kimberlys"). On the other hand, the movie falls victim to the various sorts of blindness and lopsidedness that are apt to creep into any semi-autobiographical chest-clearing. Nicholson's cat-that-ate-the-canary performance, a little too self-contented or self-throat-cutting, does nothing to offset this. But Meryl Streep strives very hard not to take advantage of the built-in slant. She is too serious an actress, too standoffish a public personality, to avail herself of the mounds of self-pity and self-flattery in Ephron's script. The character she creates, with strong inclinations toward frumpiness and frowziness (toward glasses perched dangerously near the tip of her nose, etc.) and none toward soap-operatic nobility, comes across as independent and courageous in the best possible senses: she does not feel she has to make herself look good in order to make her antagonist look bad. With Stockard Channing, Richard Masur, and Maureen Stapleton; directed by Mike Nichols. 1986.

Duncan Shepherd

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